"I wanted a new toothbrush for Christmas!" exclaimed Lincoln School second-grader Serenity Reynolds as she held a toothbrush in the air. Reynolds doesn't know it, but hundreds of people across the country answered wishes like hers and made stockings for thousands of children for Christmas.
City Limits Ministry, led by Tim and Sharon Thomas, has been dropping off stockings in Chicago Heights and Ford Heights for the past nine years. This year, the students at Lincoln and Garfield schools in Chicago Heights and Medgar Evers Primary Academic Center in Ford Heights brought home a Christmas stocking.
"City Limits is a ministry my husband and I have been with for 20 years," Sharon Thomas said. "It started with a small organization and has grown to a lot of area outreaches in Chicago and the South Suburbs. We have planted five churches in the Chicago area. Through that, we do outreaches to children such as the one today."
Joining the Lansing couple was their youngest son Nathan, along with his wife Angela and their children. Nathan, who recently began a job as Worship Arts Leader at the Berean Assembly of God in Iowa, drove all night to arrive in time to help his parents give hope to needy children. Joining Nathan were 33 members of his church.
"We had a waiting list," said Angela, referring to the high number of volunteers. "We could have had over 50 members come."
A trailer pulled up to Lincoln School, and the volunteers formed a line, retrieving huge boxes filled with green and red stockings.
"We had 2,083 stockings sent to us this year from groups all over the nation," Sharon Thomas explained. "We're giving a stocking stuffed with all kinds of wonderful goodies such as socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, gloves and more. Of course, we have fun stuff as well. We have longevity here. Longevity is a wonderful thing. The children expect us to come, they know we are coming . The love and relationships built with the children and the rapport we have developed with the school system here and with the principals have been fantastic."
Lincoln School Principal Cara Pastere met the group in the hallway. After introductions, Pastere looked at the boxes and grinned from ear to ear.
"This is awesome," Pastere said. "The kids look forward to this every single year. They just love it. It's the giving season."
As members of Berean Church went to each classroom, children looked up at their teacher and asked if they could open their stockings. Shrieks of excitement sounded from every classroom as the kids opened candy and unwrapped packages.
"This is what Christmas is about," said Yataya Eddins, a Lincoln School fifth-grader. "This stocking is my favorite color. I like everything inside."
As stockings were delivered, Sharon Thomas told more stories of Christmas past.
"One year, in each stocking there was a pamphlet telling the Christmas story," Sharon Thomas recalled. "One of the teachers had the children sit on the floor, pulled out one of the pamphlets from a stocking and read the message. She told them of the story of the real Christmas. The children were so excited. Then another year, one child began crying because he didn't get a toothbrush. That just shows the great need. I want you to know we dug through extra stockings to find that child a toothbrush."
There was no crying for lack of a toothbrush this year. In one room, fourth-grader Dusean Dunbar took each item out one by one. As tears welled up in his eyes, he spoke softly, "This is the best thing that ever happened to me. I never had this kind of special day. I got a stocking last Christmas, but I never got a big one like this before."
"This stocking, probably for many of them will be the only Christmas present they get," Sharon Thomas said.
"We just want to be a blessing to the children in this area," her husband Tim added. "These children don't have a lot. We want to bring a little of what we can in these Christmas stockings."
City Limits Ministry sends a needs list out in January to people who have donated in the past. The ministry collects items throughout the year.
"People can donate by asking for a stocking pattern or buy them at the dollar store," Tim Thomas said. "We always need extra stuff to put in them. Always need gloves, socks, hats, toothpaste, toothbrushes and cosmetics. Girls love nail polish and hair stuff while the boys enjoy the cars, trucks and small balls."
As Tim Thomas and the members of Berean Church walked down the hallway to leave, a young boy waved and said, "Thank you, and merry Christmas!"
If you are interested in helping, contact Tim Thomas at 708-261-3900.